Managing Unreasonable Behaviour Policy

1. Introduction

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) is committed to providing an accessible, responsive service to all Queenslanders.  We recognise that people using our service have diverse backgrounds and needs.  We also recognise they will sometimes be angry, frustrated or distressed or act in other ways we find challenging.  We employ skilled staff who can communicate well and deal with complex issues.

OIC is also committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace for our staff and to use our resources equitably and efficiently in our service delivery.  We expect our staff to treat people with courtesy and respect.  We expect this courtesy to be returned.  We do not tolerate behaviour that is offensive, abusive or threatening or consumes disproportionate resources.

We recognise that people who demonstrate challenging behaviour often have a legitimate grievance.  Our staff will continue to deal with their applications, enquiries or complaints on the merits of each matter.

2. Purpose

This document sets out how we deal with challenging behaviour in a way that balances OIC’s commitment to provide an accessible, efficient and equitable service to the community and government agencies, and a safe and healthy workplace for our staff.

3. Effective Date

Approved by the Information Commissioner on 16 August 2019.

4.  References

OIC Client Service Charter
Right to Information Act 2009
Information Privacy Act 2009
Public Sector Ethics Act
Public Service Code of Conduct (Qld)
Human Rights Act 2019

5. Dealing with Challenging Behaviour

OIC encounters a spectrum of challenging behaviour, from slightly confronting to clearly unreasonable, and our responses will be graduated as follows.

Image listing the stages of dealing with challenging behaviour as outlined in text below.

‘Challenging behaviour’ is any behaviour staff find challenging.  Staff can deal with most types of behaviour using prevention and responding strategies (see stage one and stage two below).

Behaviour becomes ‘unreasonable’ when, because of its nature or frequency, it raises health, safety, resource or equity issues for the OIC, our staff and other people who use our services.  Staff can deal with this behaviour using management strategies (see stage three) or recommending limits on the person’s access to our services (stage four).

Unreasonable behaviour includes verbal abuse, threats to harm OIC staff or other people, and violence.  This behaviour is never acceptable.

If staff are unsure about whether a person’s behaviour has moved from challenging to unreasonable, they should consult a manager or another experienced colleague.

5.1 Stage one:  Prevent

OIC aims to prevent challenging behaviour where possible by ensuring that our staff are courteous, helpful and respectful in our dealings with stakeholders.  To assist in prevention, staff will manage stakeholder expectations early by communicating consistently and clearly our processes, timeframes and jurisdictional limitations that may impact on the stakeholder. We will also publish community resources on our website that provide information about how we conduct our work.

5.2 Stage two: Respond

Defusing emotional behaviour

OIC staff members will respond to angry or emotional behaviour in the first instance by attempting to defuse the situation.  This involves the following sequence of actions:

  • Taking control of their own response.  At times, staff may need to take a break so they can collect themselves.  If this is not possible and the matter is not urgent, staff members can arrange to speak with the person again at another time.
  • Giving the person reasonable time to express themselves and acknowledging what they are saying and how they feel.
  • When the person’s feelings are under control enough to speak about the matter, refocusing the discussion on to the issue for OIC’s consideration or response.
  • Communicating with empathy, attention and respect and problem solving using good interpersonal and negotiation skills.
  • In some cases, staff may identify that they are not the appropriate officer to handle the relevant situation and raise this with their supervisor.

Behaviour associated with a disability

Where challenging behaviour may be a symptom or manifestation of a disability, staff may need to consider OIC’s obligations, including under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld)1, together with those obligations about performing our statutory functions under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) and the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld). OIC’s Client Service Charter provides advice about avoiding discrimination and making reasonable adjustments so people can access our services.

Staff can consult their relevant supervisor where:

  • they are unsure about whether or how to make reasonable adjustments
  • they believe the decision not to make reasonable adjustments may be justified because the person’s behaviour is a risk to health, safety or property.

Responding to threats of suicide

OIC does not expect staff to provide crisis support or counselling to people who talk about suicide.  Our role is to identify the risk and connect the person with people or services that can help.

If a person makes statements about harming themselves, staff will:

  1. Ask the person clearly and directly if they are thinking about suicide.
  2. Explain that they are concerned and want to make sure the person is safe.
  3. Alert a supervisor, who will decide what action to take.

If the person’s safety, or the safety of others, is at risk or they need immediate help, the supervisor will contact Queensland Police on 000.  OIC may disclose personal information in certain circumstances, for example if OIC is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the disclosure is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to the life, health, safety or welfare of an individual, or to public health, safety or welfare.2

In other cases, the supervisor will consider whether to:

  • encourage the person to speak with someone they trust, or
  • offer information about contacting Lifeline (13 11 14), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) or Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).

Supervisors and Commissioners will check on the welfare of affected staff following a threat of suicide and ensure support is available.

5.3 Stage three: Manage

If a person’s behaviour becomes unreasonable, staff must apply appropriate and proportionate strategies for managing the behaviour.  The strategies will depend on the behaviour type involved:

BehaviourStrategy

Unreasonable persistence

  • bombarding staff with calls or visits that are not warranted
  • contacting different staff members seeking a different answer
  • reframing a previous application, request or complaint so it looks like there are new issues
  • refusing to accept the decision after OIC have provided a decision and reasons, answered questions and provided review options
  • questioning the skills, qualifications or competence of staff.

Saying no

  • asking the person to stop calling or visiting
  • setting time limits for discussions
  • transferring the person back to the appropriate point of contact
  • declining to consider new issues that are not supported by information or evidence.

Unreasonable demands

  • insisting on an immediate response or priority
  • insisting on a response to every point, no matter how minor
  • demanding information they are not entitled to
  • insisting that someone higher handle the matter when that is not warranted
  • instructing staff on how to handle their matter.

Setting Limits

  • explaining how you will be dealing with their matter
  • explaining that you will not meet the demand and why
  • explaining that OIC deal with many matters and need to decide when and how they are handled.

Unreasonable lack of cooperation

  • sending voluminous amounts of information
  • providing little or no information
  • presenting information in ‘dribs and drabs’
  • refusing to comply with reasonable requests for information.

Setting conditions to motivate action

  • asking the person to take action (e.g. providing certain information) before the matter can progress further.

Unreasonable arguments

  • insisting on the importance of minor issues
  • making unsubstantiated allegations e.g. bias or corruption.

Declining or discontinuing involvement

  • not investigating issues where there is no practical outcome
  • requiring evidence before taking a complaint further.

Unreasonable behaviour

  • verbal abuse, aggressive behaviour, harassment or threats.

Setting limits and conditions

  • naming the behaviour and asking the person to stop
  • providing a warning.

OIC will provide staff with training and appropriate resources to further inform them about these categories and strategies to manage each category.

When choosing an appropriate strategy, staff will consider:

  • the person’s prior conduct e.g. Is the behaviour isolated or part of a pattern?
  • the nature of the conduct
  • whether the person’s personal circumstances are contributing to the behaviour e.g. health, social circumstances or disability
  • the likely effectiveness of different strategies
  • the impact of the strategy on the welfare of the complainant and any dependents
  • relevant legal obligations, including Right to Information Act and Information Privacy Act.

Occasionally circumstances may arise where the conduct is of such severity, including for example, where threats are made against a staff member or where an individual is excessively abusive, that it may be appropriate to move directly to Stage four.

5.4 Stage four: Reviewing access – a last resort

OIC can consider reviewing how people access our services and communicate with our staff if other strategies have not worked and the person continues to engage in unreasonable behaviour. We will continue to provide that person with the same service that we provide other individuals, however there may be limits placed, for example, on how that individual can communicate with OIC and the way in which OIC will communicate with them.

Depending on the type of behaviour, and after having regard to any special needs of the individual, we may consider limiting:

  • who the person can contact e.g. limiting contact to a named officer
  • what issues we will respond to e.g. not responding to issues that have already been the subject of an assessment and explanation, unless the person raises new issues that warrant attention
  • when a person can have contact
  • where the person can contact us e.g. limiting locations for face to face meetings to specific areas that help secure the safety of our staff
  • how the person can contact us e.g. confining contact to writing where the person has been verbally abusive.

Generally, any limits to how individuals may access our services or communicate with OIC will not affect our consideration of the merits of the matters raised by that individual. In some instances, however, the Information Commissioner or Right to Information Commissioner may consider that an individual’s failure to cooperate with their directions during an external review is sufficient to warrant the discontinuation of their application in full or in part.

These are cases where an individual’s failure to cooperate results in OIC being unable to conduct external review in accordance with statutory requirements. In such instances, we will provide the applicant with a view that their lack of cooperation will lead to OIC not further dealing with their application, and provide the applicant with an opportunity to cooperate with the relevant direction, prior to making any decision that is adverse to them.

Deciding to limit communication or vary access

Decisions about limiting how people access our services can be made by the Information Commissioner, the Right to Information Commissioner and/or Privacy Commissioner. These decisions are made after having regard to any relevant provisions under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) and the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld).

In most cases, we will warn the person of the action we propose to take and give the person an opportunity to stop.

Before approving any limits on communication or changes to the way in which OIC deals with a particular matter, the Information Commissioner, Right to Information Commissioner and/or Privacy Commissioner must be satisfied, on the basis of the information available at that time, that:

  • the behaviour is unreasonable i.e. poses a risk to the health, safety, equity or resources of one of the parties involved
  • all alternative strategies have been, or are likely to be, ineffective in managing the risk
  • all relevant factors have been considered including information known to OIC about the person’s history, the nature of the conduct, the person’s personal circumstances and the impact of limiting communication on the person
  • the limits on communication are proportionate to the level of risk posed by the behaviour
  • there is sound evidence to support the decision
  • the limits on communication are consistent with our obligations under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld), Information Privacy Act 2009 (Qld), Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld)3, Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and we have documented:
    • which, if any, human rights will be affected
    • why we are satisfied that the limits are reasonable and demonstrably justified under Part 2, section 13 of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld)
  • if the behaviour may be a symptom or manifestation of a disability, any limits on communication are consistent with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth).

The Director, Engagement and Corporate Services (DECS) will ensure that the decision and reasons are documented and the Limited Access List is updated.

Informing the parties

The Information Commissioner, Right to Information Commissioner and/or Privacy Commissioner will inform:

  • affected OIC staff about the decision
  • the person.  This will be in writing (unless another form of communication is more appropriate) and will explain the decision and the reasons for the decision.  It will set a timeframe for reviewing the limits (see below) and explain the person’s options if they seek to contest the decision.

Reviewing limits

The DECS will ensure that any limits on a person’s access are added to the Limited Access List, are reviewed within the named timeframe, and at least once every 12 months, to determine if they are effective and still warranted.

The DECS will document the review and inform affected officers and liaise with the relevant Commissioner who will communicate with the person of any decision to remove or vary the limits on how a person can access our services, such as communication with us.

Should a person seek review of the decision to limit access, they can request an internal review from the Information Commissioner, where the Information Commissioner was not the decision-maker.  A request for a review must be in writing and submitted either via email to complaints@oic.qld.gov.au ic@oic.qld.gov.au or marked ‘Private and Confidential’ and addressed to:

The Information Commissioner
Office of the Information Commissioner
PO Box 10143
Adelaide Street
Brisbane Qld 4000

Once all options to seek a review have been exhausted, a complaint can be made to the Queensland Ombudsman or, if a person claims discrimination, the Queensland Human Rights Commission.

Where limiting communication or varying access is not appropriate – alternative dispute resolution

The Information Commissioner or delegate may decide it is not appropriate to impose limits because it would breach legal obligations, unduly affect the welfare of the person or OIC staff actions have contributed to the behaviour.

In these cases, consideration should be given to arranging alternative dispute resolution using an independent third party.  The Information Commissioner or delegate will consider whether alternative dispute resolution is likely to be effective in the circumstances, including the person’s willingness to engage genuinely in the process.

Recording and reviewing unreasonable behaviour

OIC staff must record all incidents of unreasonable behaviour via a file note in the relevant file within 24 hours and notify their relevant supervisor.  The record will:

  • describe what the person said or did in neutral terms
  • describe the action the staff member took in response.

Supervisors will report to their respective Directors and Commissioners. The relevant Commissioner will review reports regularly and liaise with the DECS to:

  • ensure strategies are being applied appropriately and consistently
  • identify possible patterns, and, if appropriate, recommend changes to service delivery that may help prevent challenging behaviour in future.

6 Security

In order to ensure the safety of our staff and the security of our work premises, OIC staff will ensure that appropriate steps are taken to prepare for meetings with external stakeholders. OIC staff will use duress devices as required and take precautionary measures with respect to their building access cards in order to protect their own safety and the safety of those that enter our offices. OIC has measures in place to ensure the immediate notification of any incident or threat to the Queensland Police Service.

Supervisors and staff will engage in discussions prior to any face to face meeting about what security measures will be appropriate and the number of individuals that should attend that meeting. OIC staff will not meet community members outside of secure premises. Any unexpected visitors to our office will be greeted at reception and will have an opportunity to meet with relevant OIC staff once the appropriate safety measures have been considered and implemented.

Should any OIC staff experience harassment outside of the workplace via social media or other means, and they consider that this harassment relates to or may impact upon their work, they should report the incident to the relevant supervisor.  The supervisor will assess the situation and escalate to the appropriate Director or Assistant Commissioner for further action.

7 Roles and Responsibilities

All staff are authorised to apply the strategies in stages one to three of this policy (prevent, respond and manage).

Staff must consult a supervisor/Commissioner if:

  • a person requests to make a formal complaint in accordance with the Complaints Management Procedure
  • a person threatens suicide
  • a person makes threats to harm a staff member or another person.

Decisions to limit access to services (stage four) can be made by the Information Commissioner, or the Right to Information Commissioner and/or Privacy Commissioner in consultation with the Information Commissioner.

Support for staff

OIC recognises that dealing with challenging or unreasonable behaviour can be upsetting and stressful and we are committed to supporting our staff.

We will provide a safe workplace and support staff, and up holding our legal obligations, by:

  • supporting staff members with additional training and education courses relevant to managing difficult behaviour
  • access to employee assistance programs.

Supervisors and Commissioners will speak with staff who handle complaints regularly to check their welfare and to provide them with an opportunity to debrief, in addition to any other supervision arrangements.

Staff are encouraged to monitor the impact of challenging behaviour on their wellbeing, debrief with supervisors and colleagues, draw on other available supports and maintain a healthy approach to managing stress. Staff are reminded of our obligations to respect confidentiality and privacy under the RTI and IP Acts, and to only share information as appropriate with regard to such obligations.

Staff who are injured at work must report this in accordance with the OIC Workplace Health and Safety Policy.

1 Relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 2019 commence on 1 January 2020.
2 See Schedule 3, Information Privacy Principle 11(1)(c) of the Information Privacy Act 2009.
3 Relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 2019 commence on 1 January 2020.